Attachment Parenting Toddlers – Can You Still Do It?
If you’re currently a parent, I’m sure you have heard about Attachment Parenting. And if you haven’t, you can read all about it in How Attachment Parenting Builds a Strong Parent Child Bond. But not that your baby is becoming a toddler, you may be wondering if Attachment Parenting toddlers is still possible?
And the answer to that is yes and no. While Attachment Parenting is a great way to parent a baby, when you’re parenting an older child, you have to be careful that you’re not becoming overly permissive or impeding their independence too much, and thus creating behavioral problems. You need to take the principles that Dr. Sears talks about and apply them in a new way. In essence, you want to keep the spirit of Attachment Parenting and not get bogged down in all the details. Attachment Parenting can absolutely grow up with your child, it’s just need a little tweaking.
So let’s dive in to the 7 cornerstone principles of Attachment Parenting and see how we can apply them to older children.
This is super important for your baby and it’s very easy. All you need to do is make sure you spend a lot of time with your baby, holding, cuddling, feeding, talking, singing, etc. That’s how you grow your bond. And you should continue doing this into the toddler years and beyond. It’s all about cultivating a strong and warm relationship with your child. The activities for bonding change as the child grows, but they all come down to one simple thing: Be present and interested in your child and your bond will grow. Allow your toddler to take the lead in activities and follow along. Nothing makes a toddler (or anyone for that matter) feel more important, than the person they admire the most, showing genuine interest in them.
This is the preferred method of feeding a baby according to Attachment Parenting. When it comes to toddlerhood, it’s really up to you at this point. While WHO recommends breastfeeding till 2 years old, keep in mind that this organization puts out its recommendations to encompass developing countries, that often don’t have access to clean water. Thus breastfeeding becomes a life or death scenario under those conditions. It is not so for developed countries.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that you should continue to breastfeed for as long as it’s mutually beneficial for both mom and child. If either wants to wean, this should be respected.
Nursing a toddler can cultivate very warm moments, where mom and child get to spend time together, cuddle and re-connect. It’s a great stress reliever and soother for the toddler as well. But if you choose not to breastfeed into toddlerhood, just know, you can still have a very strong bond and healthy attachment with your child.
Attachment Parenting recommends baby wearing as a way to keep baby in close contact with the parent. Touch is very important for a small baby that is learning to regulate its bodily functions.
I have to be honest, I don’t think this is a principal that needs to extend into toddlerhood. I don’t know about your toddler, but the moment mine learned to walk, he did not want to be carried in a carrier. He was fine with a stroller for naps and longer walks, but other than that wanted to move around uninhibited.
Since the point of baby-wearing is to be physically close to your child, you can still do that by cuddling, reading books together, giving and receiving spontaneous hugs, etc. Your toddler does not need as much physical touch from you as they did when they were a baby. So, they don’t need to be carried around. They may enjoy it from time to time. But they won’t want to nearly as much. In fact, respecting their independence and drive to explore, will get you much further than trying to limit it by physical closeness that may not welcome.
Bedding Close to Babies
This is something that you can absolutely do with a toddler and beyond (if you want). It’s much safer to bed share with a toddler than it is with a baby. And it’s possible to have their crib in your room, and thus continue to room in if you don’t want to share your bed.
It is however tougher with a toddler than a baby in your room. They are more sensitive to noise and so, you may have to be extra quiet. They also start testing boundaries and may not make for best bedfellows. It is up to you to set up the appropriate boundaries with your toddler when sharing a space with them. And it’s also perfectly fine to let them sleep in their own room, if they are comfortable with it. Our son has been sleeping in his room since he was 6 months old. He loves it and doesn’t ever ask to sleep with us. He only climbs in to our bed in the mornings for a quick cuddle and then works very hard on getting us out of bed. He’s on the move from the moment he wakes up.
Belief in the language-value of baby’s cry
Attachment Parenting is all about being responsive to your baby’s cry. Babies always cry for a reason, and need you to respond to them. It’s a little different with toddlers. While toddlers also cry for a reason, jumping in to rescue them, and addressing their cries immediately is no longer developmentally appropriate.
We need to keep in mind that babies don’t see themselves as separate beings from their mothers, they are one and the same. Thus boundaries are inappropriate. It’s kind of like trying to separate your left leg from the rest of your body. It just doesn’t work. But as your child grows and starts to become mobile, they are physically and emotionally beginning to separate from you, and becoming their own entity.
As they are recognizing themselves as a separate entity, they become more clear on their needs and wants. They no longer just cry for food or warmth, they cry out of frustration and knowledge that their parent can help make things easier. They learn that they don’t always have to put in an effort, someone else can do it for them. And this is where the Attachment Parenting model needs to look different for toddlers. Toddlers need to be given space to explore, struggle, be bored. They learn from all that input and develop independence. They can’t develop independence if their parents helicopter over them and constantly run to their rescue.
So, while you should not be ignoring your toddler’s cries, you need to be more discerning about them. If for example, you child took a small tumble and is now crying because they want comfort, you can ask them to come to you for a quick hug, instead of rushing over to them. Or if your child is crying because they wanted the red cup, instead of the blue one, acknowledge their feelings and show them your empathy. But if the red cup isn’t available, don’t bend over backwards to make it available. Disappointments are hard but part of life. And it’s better to process them in the safety of an empathetic parent, than anywhere else.
Beware of “baby trainers”
By “baby trainers” Dr. Sears cautioned against training your child like you would a dog. Eating on a strict schedule, CIO for sleeping, TV for a babysitter are all frowned upon and are not part of the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Dr. Sears believes that parents need to nurture the individual child, and not mold them into the type of person the parent desires.
Attachment Parenting concentrates on not parenting out of convenience, but doing what is right for your child. This means limited (if any) screen time, lots of child led activities, etc. I wouldn’t go so far as to say not to set a schedule for your toddler. But it may mean that you structure a schedule based on your child’s natural rhythm. So if you want your child to nap at 12pm, but they are not tired at that time, you need to move the nap to a somewhat later time. Same is with bedtime. Just because you want your child to go to bed at 7pm, it may not be the best time for them. Trust me, if you put them to bed at 8, you’ll eliminate that hour of struggle you’re having by putting them to bed too early. And your evening will be much less stressful.
Ah, what a lovely goal for parenthood. Dr. Sears reminds us that we should make sure to remember that we are human beings and not just parents. This means that we should take time for self-care and couple-care. It’s so easy to get absorbed into parenthood that we forget that anything else exists.
The important thing to remember is that the goal of Attachment Parenting (for a baby and beyond) is to create a secure attachment in your child. Your life and theirs becomes exponentially easier when they feel safe and secure. And you can easily achieve that when you remember that your children are also human and have personalities and preferences. While you don’t need to cave to their every whim and desire, remember to take their preferences into account. It’s a much more fruitful and pleasant endeavor to learn about your child, then to try to fit them into an image you have. I know you can do it and be on the way to a much more fulfilling and positive parenting experience.
Quote of the Day
“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.” – Jane D. Hull
Mental Health Tip of the Day
When it comes to a parenting philosophy, don’t get too wrapped up in unnecessary details. Even if you read books about certain styles make sure to take the principles and tailor them to your unique situation. At the end of the day, you are not getting any prizes for following someone else’s philosophy to a tee.